New Wire Procedure Clears Total Heart Blockages

When arteries become blocked, techniques like angioplasty and stents are good alternatives to surgery. But total blockages are a different story. Getting through them is more difficult.

Now, a small wire may be the perfect solution.

Ronny Shalev thought he was in good health.

"I don't eat meat. I'm not fat."

And he swims about an hour and a half each day. But Ronny got a little worried when he started having chest pain.

"While swimming, I felt that I had like something that was heartburn-type sensation."

Dr. Roger Gammon is an Interventional Cardiologist with The Heart Hospital of Austin, Texas.

Dr. Gammon told Ronny he had a total blockage in the most important artery in his heart.

"Many times, that is an incentive for that patient to go onto bypass surgery."

But a new wire saved Ronny from surgery. It uses radio frequency energy to burn through blockages.

A lighted guidance system helps doctors see exactly where the wire is, so it doesn't cut the artery wall.

Once the wire makes its way through the blockage, doctors insert a stent to keep the artery open.

"It would be like turning on your car and being able to drive through a tunnel, whereas previously you were just sitting there stopped," Dr. Gammon said.

Old wires could be as low as 30 percent effective. The new wire is about 80 percent successful at getting through a total blockage.

"That was our last frontier that we couldn't break through, literally. And so now that we have a wire like this, that can get us through, it gives us the opportunity to use those stents. And there are very few patients that can't be treated now."

Ronny is relieved he was a candidate.

"I was worried that they would have to open me up, and then I would be, I guess, a limited person. Today, I'm completely healthy."

This new wire can be used for blockages in the heart as well as those in the leg. The wire procedure is considered minimally-invasive, and it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to get through the blockage.